Markets

On Brexit

June 28, 2016
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On Brexit

What a tumultuous 5 days. The lurching feeling is all the more acute after a period of one-way markets (up) and declining volatility. With polls shifting towards “Remain” last week, the prospect of all-time highs in the S&P 500 held an aura of inevitability. The unexpected Brexit vote, by a solid 4 point margin, tanked stocks for two consecutive sessions, eliminated Fed rate hike expectations for 2016, and catapulted gold. Monday’s continuation of trend points to Brexit being something larger than a one-off event catching market participants all on one side of a trade. The shock to the construct of the EU will impact financial markets through the end of the current cycle, which is already in late stages (7-years old). Perhaps, Brexit will be a tipping point, or...

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Valuing the Yellen Put

April 7, 2016
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Valuing the Yellen Put

The Yellen Put, follows a line of Federal Reserve inspired put options, valuable to market participants of specific Fed Chair eras. The rationale behind the Fed Chair put is simple; with the Federal Reserve so vigilant to support any downtick in the economy and/or markets with interest rate cuts (Greenspan), quantitative easing (Bernanke), and ZIRF (Zero Interest Rates Forever – Yellen) investors receive downside protection from the Fed. Actually paying for downside protection vis-a-vis real put options takes on a ludicrous feel; markets don’t go down much, and if they do, they never stay down. Duh. That markets are increasingly policy driven is a reality of the current investment/economic cycle. 2016 investors are learning (through force) just how valuable the Yellen Put is. Janet Yellen is the most dovish...

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Wall Street vs. Main Street Investment Attributes

February 29, 2016
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Wall Street vs. Main Street Investment Attributes

Market leadership is constantly changing as sub-sectors come in and out of favor and particular investment attributes ebb and flow in popularity. One new theme in 2016 is the resurgence of “Main Street” type investments and overall investment exposures relative to “Wall Street” investment exposures. More simply put, mass market exposures are outperforming higher-end, upper income/luxury exposures. Within the consumer space noteworthy moves and investment shifts are underway as some of 2015’s high fliers are dramatically tumbling back down to earth. A stark example is Restoration Hardware. The stock is cut in half since the start of the year and down some 60 points, to $40, from prices above $100 just last fall. The culprit for RH is a dramatic sales and earnings miss in a promotional environment for furniture....

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China Slowdown Will Plague Markets For Years

January 31, 2016
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China Slowdown Will Plague Markets For Years

What a start to the year. CJF’s contrarian prediction of 1,860 on the S&P came to be on January 20th. Subsequently, the market rallied strongly on the hint of more quantitative easing out of the ECB, and the adoption of negative interest rates by the Bank of Japan. Any doubts that 2016 will be a volatile, and difficult year, should now be erased. After a tumultuous January for investing, a period when seasonality and investment inflows are supposed to support markets, CJF is stepping back to assess big picture dynamics for the global economy and the overall investment environment. At risk of being overly obvious: Something is not quite right with the global economy In the seventh year of recovery since the financial crisis, Brazil is in recession, Russia...

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2016

January 7, 2016
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2016

“I would say happy new year but it’s not happy; it’s exactly the same as last year except colder.” -Robert Clark I find the quote fitting for financial markets, and CJF prognostications, after a very tough 2015, and an inauspicious start to 2016, with a week-one tailspin around the globe. The setup for 2016 isn’t pretty, and investors should brace for a potential sharp pullback in markets, and heightened volatility through the year. Decisive 2016 themes: 1) valuation (high) 2) deflation (pressures global earnings) 3) liquidity (tug-a-war between Fed and “other”) The S&P 500 valuation swelled from 12x forward earnings in 2011, to 17x in 2015. While the market multiple is now somewhat off its high, it remains in the 16x vicinity. High valuation raises the bar for economic/earnings...

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Policy Driven Markets are Treacherous

December 10, 2015
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Policy Driven Markets are Treacherous

Volatility in the stock market is rising, intraday swings more violent, and high-to-low ranges increasing. The lurching action of the market is not driven by fundamentals, it’s difficult to profit from, and disconcerting. There isn’t a single item to pinpoint with respect to market angst, rather, a combination of factors, leading to manic sentiment changes. The sweeping issue of late-2015 is the extent to which global financial markets remain policy driven. During the financial crisis and subsequent few years, the degree of governmental and regulatory involvement in the economy and markets was prudent. Letting a crisis flare served no one. However, it’s worrisome that markets are still sooooo policy dependent 7-years into a recovery. One shudders to think what will happen if the economy really slows. China markets sit...

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Black Friday Retail Dud; Online Share Shift Accelerates

November 28, 2015
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Black Friday Retail Dud; Online Share Shift Accelerates

Bah humbug. Black Friday jumped the shark sometime around the turn of the century. Nonetheless, a disproportionate amount of retail and media focus continue to emphasize Black Friday’s importance as an event. While declining over several years, this year got markedly worse, to the point where media reports were forced to highlight the “normality” of shopping on Black Friday and the notable empty parking lots. This year, the Grinch brought store based retail sales over to online. Sources of information are disjointed but echo the same themes enough to draw some early conclusions: WSJ: “Early Sales Thin Black Friday Rush “Driving up to a nearly empty parking lot at a Wal-Mart in Houston Friday morning, Dora Rodriquez, 39, stopped her silver hatchback in surprise and called out her window...

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Qui n’avance pas, recule

November 16, 2015
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Qui n’avance pas, recule

We all eat at restaurants, go to stadiums, and walk down the street. The tragically successful terrorist attacks in Paris highlight the vulnerability of the human condition at any instant. While this has always been the case, and will continue to be so, civilization, and human progress, over past centuries and decades, reduces the chance of random death from a vulgar, inhumane cause. Radical Islamic terrorism is so deplorable because the aim is to destroy, to undo, to move backwards in time, and to return to a harsher world. The impossibility of the ultimate success of the radical Islamic movement is matched with the fervor of the very small percentage of the world population that supports this movement. To create the scale necessary to carry out such large scale...

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Midsummer Issues Persist; Divergent Global Central Bank Actions Create Challenges

November 10, 2015
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Midsummer Issues Persist; Divergent Global Central Bank Actions Create Challenges

The market moves fast. Thankfully, in the rest of the world, trends of all kinds, generally move at a measured pace. The market overreacts to events and day-to-day happenings based on crowd think and behavioral issues. A change in trend will often start with a subtle data point or indicator, which in hindsight, ignites a big, and sustained move in the market. Now is not one of those times. Late summer fears of China slowdown and EM collapse look to have been overblown, and the severity of the selloff too harsh. But the rally of the past two months also contains elements of overreaction; the underlying drivers and risks from the summer aren’t resolved. The world is fundamentally caught in a new dynamic. Credit expansion reached limits in every...

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On Sentiment; How the Market Mini-Crashed and Exploded Right Back

November 4, 2015
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On Sentiment; How the Market Mini-Crashed and Exploded Right Back

The stock market is on fire. As negative, dour, downbeat, and gloomy was August, the market this fall (early fall), is contrastingly, positive, nonchalant, optimistic, and even euphoric. So it goes; a fast 11% sell off over 6 trading days, on little more than poor sentiment, and a 3% Chinese currency devaluation, followed by an incredible global recovery on dramatic global central bank stimulus and, well, things not being quite so bad in China (for now). In retrospect, it’s always easy. The economic machine works as a process (using Ray Dalio’s terms), and short of a deep freeze of liquidity, economic activity doesn’t shut down over night. The global economy isn’t ready to slow dramatically; the US is still too strong, and global central banks still too eager to...

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Amazon and Wal-Mart; Atypical Market Rally Driven by Disintermediation and Secular Trends

October 24, 2015
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Amazon and Wal-Mart; Atypical Market Rally Driven by Disintermediation and Secular Trends

Wal-Mart recently hosted an Analyst Day to update Wall Street on current operating trends and strategy. The amount of investment needed to modernize the store base, and improve the overall customer offering is staggering. Wal-Mart will experience a second consecutive year of earnings decline in 2016. The stock took the update poorly, falling over 12% from last week’s price of $67 to $58 on Friday. The decline slashed $27b in market capitalization. Along with Wal-Mart, the retail sector got pounded, despite a rampaging market and stunning moves within large-cap tech. While the market isn’t at new highs (yet), the August sell-off is now undone, and the market trades solidly within the range of the previous 7-months (2,050-2,130). What’s going on? The current rally is atypical because it’s driven by...

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5 Investment Patterns That Don’t Make Sense

October 14, 2015
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5 Investment Patterns That Don’t Make Sense

2015 is shaping up to be a challenging year for investments. The market swoon in mid-August caught most off-guard, and the subsequent violent recovery arrived right after several prominent investors turned bearish, or at least hedged. Markets don’t need to make any sense, and at times, understanding “why” the market is getting crushed, or exploding, is a futile exercise; it may lead to a grounded feeling, but ultimately, is not too helpful in predicting the next move. Nonetheless, since mid-August, several relationships/patterns emerged that are particularly nonsensical. A short list: 1) A-share returns matter for global stock markets The stock market in China, the world’s second largest economy, is a big mess of a structure. Top Chinese companies are listed in three separate exchanges/geographies, each open to a different...

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